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Faculty & Staff

Learning at Columbus Jewish Day School is a transformative and joyful experience thanks to our remarkable teachers.  Both our faculty and staff are drawn to CJDS because they want to inspire students with love and excitement for learning, which they themselves model every day. Our teachers seek to make a difference in every child’s life.

Annelyn Baron – Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Kindergarten

Annelyn, the Jewish Studies Kindergarten Teacher, is a founding teacher of CJDS. She is very proud of her pioneering role in the school and has taught Jewish education to two generations of Jewish children in Ohio. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Cincinnati, and brings deep experience -- both to the Kindergarten classroom and the school as a whole --as she facilitates the Jewish holiday Programming, which includes supporting CJDS’ unique all-school Kabbalat Shabbat assemblies. Before coming to CJDS, served for over 21 years as the Pre-Kindergarten teacher at the preschool of the Leo Yassenoff Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus and as an Art Specialist for many years at Jewish summer camp. was awarded the Jeffrey and Lori Lasday Jewish Educator of the Year Award in 2000 and has been selected several times to travel with contingents of CJDS staff to Israel, on Kivunim, the Institute of Experiential Learning for Israel and World Jewish Communities Studies. has also been a part of the Educators Delegation to Israel, a connection between Jewish Educators in Columbus and our sister city of Kfar Saba. enjoys gardening with her husband, celebrating holidays with extended family, and entertaining friends in their home. She especially loves it when her children come for visits, and when her grandchildren visit for "Grammie Camp" at her house.

Jodi Senser Benningfield – General Studies, Grade 1

Jodi has been teaching for 15 years and has taught Pre K, 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th grades both at Kenton County public schools in the Cincinnati area and at the JCC New Albany Preschool. While at the JCC, she also served as the Judaics specialist and has taught religious school at Temple Beth Shalom for the past three years. Jodi is very excited to be teaching first grade! Her Master's degree work from Xavier University is in Reading and Literacy, and she has a passion for reading and books that she loves to instill in her students. Jodi lives in Westerville with her two boys. She loves art, music, theater, and nature.

Miriam Berk – Judaics Teacher, Grade 3

Miriam Berk is a native of Columbus, having returned for a second time seven years ago to live here (fun fact - during the first return, Miriam sat on the Founding Board of CJDS until moving to Canada in 1997).

Miriam holds a B.A. in Judaic Studies from The Ohio State University and an Executive Master's degree in Jewish Educational Leadership through Hebrew Union College. Miriam also holds a Master's Concentration in Israel Education through the iCenter. Most of Miriam's 30 years of teaching has been in the fields of Jewish supplementary school education and Jewish camps on both coasts, in Canada, and in Israel. She has always had a passion for making Judaism accessible and engaging to all through creative and experiential learning.

Miriam has always admired the CJDS community and loves the emphasis placed on developing each child's spiritual and social emotional growth alongside intellectual pursuits. She and her husband, Arye have three grown children, two of which (and identical twin granddaughters) live in Israel. When not trying to video chat with those babies, Miriam enjoys reading, cooking elaborate Shabbat meals, dabbling in arts and crafts, and dreaming of sandy beaches. Miriam is thrilled to be a part of the CJDS family!

Brent Bloomster – School Behavioral Consultant

Dr. Brent Bloomster, a Licensed Psychologist and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with Nationwide Children’s Hospital, has been working closely with CJDS students and supporting our teachers since 2014. Across his extensive career of over 30 years in the behavioral health field, he has worked with both children and adults in various settings, including in both public and private schools, community mental health agencies, a residential treatment center, and a community corrections facility. Brent holds a Ph.D. in Counselor Education with Doctoral Equivalence in Psychology from The Ohio State University, a B.A. in Psychology from Taylor University and a Master’s Degree of Education in Counselor Education from Temple University. “. B,” as he is affectionately known to CJDS students and teachers, delights in seeing the investment that goes into each student’s education at CJDS and supporting staff in their efforts to educate the whole child. Drawing on a variety of areas of training, Brent works with CJDS students individually, in small groups and in whole classes, in addition to consulting with faculty one-on-one and in small groups. He has a love of humor, adventure, outdoors, travel, nature, wildlife, bicycling, and camping. He enjoys basketball and tennis, board games, and singing. Originally not fond of heights and water, he turned this around and has participated in rappelling, high ropes courses, and whitewater canoeing. Married for over three decades, he is a parent of three young adults and now a grandparent!

Joanie Calem – Music Teacher, K-5

Joanie Calem is back as the CJDS Music Teacher, having taught the first time from 2006-2016. Joanie is happy to be back, and is looking forward to dusting off her curriculum of Jewish and Israeli music again! She especially missed the magic of CJDS student-led Kabbalot Shabbat, where children are given the space to shine through music and art.

Joanie has lived in Columbus since 1998, having moved here with her husband and two children from Israel. Joanie began her music teaching career in Israel and was trained in the Orff, Kodaly, Suzuki and "Rhyt-Musica" methods. Joanie is passionate about finding ways to help anyone who loves music become an active music maker, and to that end believes in inclusive classrooms where multiple learning styles are incorporated and celebrated.

Joanie has a BA in Music in Community Building from DePaul University in Chicago IL. Her degree has led her to wonderful opportunities to help build many-faceted communities, and outside of her time at CJDS, Joanie offers teacher workshops on Equity and Inclusion in Education, sings at the Wexner Heritage Village, presents intergenerational community building concerts, sings in Permanent Supported Housing communities, leads music at Kehilat Sukkat Shalom, and hikes and plays with her family and friends.

Amanda Chernyak – Front Office Assistant

Amanda Chernyak holds a Bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University and has over 10 years of administrative experience in both the medical and school settings. Amanda strongly believes in the power and importance of education, as well as the safety of our students. She will go above and beyond for all the students, families and staff. Outside her role at the CJDS, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, and being able to watch her kids participate in sports. She also likes to cook, travel, and cheer on her favorite Ohio sports teams.

Alex Damico – General Studies, Kindergarten

Alex Damico, a Columbus native, received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Ceramics from Ohio University. Shortly after graduating he moved to California to work with Americorps as a literacy intervention and afterschool group leader. This experience led him to realizing his love of teaching. Alex then completed his Master’s in Urban Education with a concentration in Early Literacy from Loyola Marymount University in Southern California through the Teach for America program. Alex moved back to Columbus with his wife, a CJDS Alum, to continue his teaching journey. He has taught 1st and 5th grades over the past seven years, and is excited to be back in the classroom as a Kindergarten teacher! In Alex’s free time he enjoys baking cookies, developing film, and hiking with his dog Rye. Alex is looking forward to getting to know the CJDS community, learning with the Kindergarten class, and having a great year together!

Rachel Feldman- Learning Specialist

Rachel grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and received her Bachelors from the University of Georgia in Early Childhood Education. After completing her undergrad, Rachel went on to earn her Masters in Reading with a Reading Specialist Certification from Columbia University – Teachers College. Rachel worked as an educator in New York City for five years, and her first job was teaching Kindergarten. She went on to become a Reading Specialist for grades 1-5 at a charter school in Brooklyn, New York.

Rachel is trained in many reading programs including - Orton and Gillingham and Reading Rescue. She recently moved to the Columbus area with her husband Jason, and her new puppy Teddy. Outside of the classroom, Rachel enjoys going to Broadway shows, and traveling. She is so excited to be the Learning Specialist and join the CJDS community!

Katie Feldstein – Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Grade 2

Katie began at CJDS as a graduate intern and has now taught Hebrew and Jewish Studies for over 16 years in either first or second grade.  With a Master’s in Education in Elementary Education from The Ohio State University, Katie is certified in Ohio to teach K-8.  Her own upbringing and Jewish education instilled a passion to impart her love for the Hebrew language and Jewish religion, along with guitar, music, and dance, to her students.  Her favorite ways to do this are through song, dance, and dramatic presentations.  Katie believes so strongly in the child-centered and integrated approach at CJDS that she and her husband enrolled their son who graduated from CJDS in 2019. Outside of school, Katie enjoys singing, dancing, reading, and spending time with Sam, Jonathan, and the family dog, Chewie. Katie was thrilled when her parents moved back to Ohio in 2015 and chose to live nearby; they can often be found volunteering at CJDS.

Gina Freeman (PhD) – Science Specialist, Grades K-5

Gina Freeman holds a Doctorate, Master’s and Bachelor’s of Science Degrees in Education with Minor Degrees in Management and Human Resources, Health Education and Biological Science from The Ohio State University. She also holds licensure in School Administration, Physical Education, Adapted Physical Education, Health Education and Biological Science. As a founding faculty member who also served as Dean of Students, Gina has always been drawn to CJDS’s whole-child, learner-centered, integrated education. She is driven by her passion to help every child reach his/her full potential. Gina is a military veteran and was awarded the Medal of Merit which is the highest award for a non-combat soldier. Gina enjoys gardening, volunteering, reading, yoga, walking, camping, fishing, sewing, and kayaking with close family and friends.

Ari Friedman – Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Grade 1

Arielle (Ari) Friedman’s Bachelor of Arts is in Jewish Studies from The Ohio State University. Her teaching career began in Cincinnati as the Judaics teacher in the Kindergarten class at Rockwern Academy community day school. Since moving to Columbus, she deepened her experience and quickly expanded her expertise as a Hebrew and Judaics instructor, teaching at the Columbus JCC preschool, where she was the lead Judaics teacher in the Nitzanim class. A native Hebrew and English speaker who grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home, Ari also served as the Director of the Chaverim B’Ivrit, a summer Hebrew immersion camp experience which is a nationally recognized model program for JCC’s around the country. A voracious learner, she has attended multiple intensive training seminars where she has gained skill and understanding for teaching Hebrew in Day School and in immersive settings, where she has developed leading edge skills and experience in Hebrew language instruction. Her philosophy of Jewish education is grounded in a firm belief that Judaism and the Jewish people are diverse, and believes we have the joy and privilege of learning from those differences, by valuing and embracing that diversity. She appreciates and identifies with this pluralistic emphasis at CJDS. Outside of school, she spends much of her time with her family and fiancé and enjoys hiking, music, fitness, cooking delicious meals, and always challenging herself to be better.

Glenn Henry – Building Maintenance

Glenn comes to us after a long career in the computer support environment. He has always been a DIY’er, and has many years of experience in remodeling and updating his residences using his plumbing, electrical, and carpentry skills. He is thrilled with the new position because it presents something new and challenging each and every day, enabling him to use his vast experience to resolve them. In his off hours, you’ll find Glenn cheering on the Ohio State Buckeyes during football season. Glenn resides along the Hoover Reservoir where he loves to kayak with his family and friends. He lives with his wife and son, three dogs and two cats, and loves the serenity of living in the woods along the reservoir.

Debbie McMunn - Art Teacher, K-5

Debbie McMunn received her Bachelor’s degree in Art and Design and minor in Graphic Design from the College of Design at North Carolina State University.

Although her early work focused on interior and furniture design, she quickly developed a love for teaching and has spent over 5 years in the classroom in various capacities including teaching kindergarten in Florida.

Always up for an adventure, Debbie served as first mate and Head of Homeschool aboard her family’s sailboat for a year long sabbatical sailing the US East Coast and Caribbean. After exploring over 13 countries with her husband of 18 years and two daughters, the family returned to land life and is now proud to call central Ohio home. Debbie enjoys volunteering with local charities, playing tennis, gardening and raising her two wonderful daughters.

Julie Mikalov – General Studies, Grade 2

Julie graduated from the Teaching All Learners program at Indiana University where she learned to implement effective strategies associated with teaching in classrooms with students having a wide range of abilities. She is credentialed with a dual license in elementary and special education. Julie is drawn to the developmental stage of eight- and nine-year-olds, when students are actively transitioning to a more intellectually abstract curriculum. She derives great satisfaction from witnessing the immense strides students take in reading and math at this stage of their education. Julie loves the collaborative atmosphere that permeates CJDS, and was drawn from the very beginning to its warm and welcoming faculty and staff. Julie’s involvement in the Columbus Jewish community also includes her role as the advisor to Congregation Beth Tikvah’s youth group, BethTY. In her spare time, she enjoys playing golf and traveling. Julie is also a board game devotée, and is convinced that game-playing is a great tool for learning.

Kristina Palma – Physical Education, Science, and Health

Kristina teaches physical education and health in grades K-5. She graduated from Bowling Green State University with a B.A. in Physical Education and an adapted physical education minor, with a focus on modifying sports equipment to meet the individualized needs of athletes with disabilities. Upon graduation, she earned her Certificate in Health Education from Capital University. Before joining the CJDS faculty in 2010, Kristina taught and coached in Westerville schools.  She was attracted to CJDS because of the curriculum and the amazing students, faculty, and parents.  Kristina is driven by a passion to make physical education so enjoyable for the students that they will want to continue to be active for life. It is not uncommon for CJDS students to see Kristina at hockey games or diving competitions. Kristina’s passions are weight lifting, snowboarding, boating, hiking, and maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle.

Lori Sachs – Building Substitute Teacher

Lori was born here in Columbus and studied at The Ohio State University after a gap year in Israel. She has been teaching since she was in high school and still enjoys working with kids of all ages.

Lori is married to Ed, who she met while living in Omaha, Nebraska. They have one son, Eric, who attended CJDS in the early days. Eric is now living in NYC.

Besides teaching religious school at Congregation Tifereth Israel, Lori keeps busy volunteering and reading. She has kept a list of the books she has read for over 20 years -- and she just passed 330 books. Lori also loves to travel and looks forward to being able to do that again soon!

Kerry Selfinger – Institutional Advancement Associate

Kerry is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science in Human Ecology focusing on Early Education (2010). She has enjoyed working in non-profits and corporate environments, but finds herself getting drawn back into education. Kerry comes from a family of Teachers and loves seeing the progress that students make, and watching them grow. Kerry is always seen with a smile on her face, and eager to snap a photo to post to our social media account. A teacher herself, Kerry enjoys being around children and learning every day. Kerry has been with CJDS since 2017, and loves helping CJDS continue to grow. She enjoys traveling, watching the Buckeyes, and spending time with family and friends.

Jennifer Swetnam – Speech Pathologist

Jennifer Swetnam is a Speech/Language Pathologist with Northrup and Associates. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from The Ohio State University and a Master’s Degree from the University of Akron. She holds a license from the Ohio Board of Speech/Language Pathology and Audiology and the Ohio Board of Education. Jennifer also has a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Prior to working at Northrup and Associates, Jennifer worked at Bridgeway Academy with students on the autism spectrum.  Jennifer provides screenings, evaluations and treatment for all areas of communication: articulation, receptive and expressive language, language processing, voice, fluency, and pragmatic/social skills. Jennifer is passionate about teaching speech and language skills, particularly social language, and enjoys finding fun and creative ways to teach her students. She looks forward to providing CJDS classroom lessons focusing on social communication. Jennifer and her husband enjoy biking, hiking, traveling, and spending time with their friends and family.

Joanna Vilensky – General Studies, Grades 4th and 5th

Joanna received a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College, a Master of Arts from The University of Chicago’s Divinity School, and a Master of Science in Education from Northwestern University.  She has lived all over the country, from California to Pennsylvania, racking up teaching licenses in four states.  She happily returned to her hometown of Columbus five years ago.  She loves encouraging kids to think deeply about the world and ask as many questions as possible.  Joanna also loves teaching because it allows her to be a lifelong learner and believes she learns the most from her students.  The warmth of CJDS and the holistic approach to education impresses her and is aligned with her own philosophy and values. Outside of school, you can see Joanna with her head in a book, writing, playing with her two kids, working out, baking, and hiking.